President Obama opened his last State of the Union address Tuesday night by saying, broadly, that he'll continue to work on immigration.
"I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing," he said. "Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage. All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done."
He did not go into specifics, though he mentioned America's immigrant roots several times over the course of his speech.
In 2014, Obama took executive actions to put in place the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) plan and to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (put in place in 2012). Under DACA, people who came to the U.S. as children without documents can be granted permission to stay in the U.S. legally in three-year terms. With DAPA, parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents are granted the same rights.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, DACA has already granted legal status to more than 580,000 young people. And if the current hold on DAPA is removed, at least 3.7 million parents might also see the same relief.
Both programs are not accepting any new applicants after a Texas federal court temporarily blocked the programs, questioning their constitutionality. An appeals court upheld that decision in November. The Supreme Court may take up a case challenging that order this year.
At the same time, the Obama administration has deported more people than any previous president, a total of more than 2.5 million people since 2009. And activists says that recently, home raids have targeted Central American women and children who often have legitimate claims to asylum after suffering abuse in their homelands.
A group of house democrats sent a letter to the White House this evening condemning the raids and calling on Obama to apply the same standards to refugees from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala that they say his administration uses in welcoming refugees from other parts of the world. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda called on Obama earlier Tuesday to put a stop to the raids and to reform immigrant detention centers, where conditions are sometimes unlivable, according to recent reports.
And another immigration issue that's moved into the spotlight: As Syria's civil war continues to rage on and refugees continue to flee the country, the debate over how many people the U.S. can (and should) take in has grown contentious. And since the terrorist attacks on Paris, which the Islamic State claimed responsibility for, Republicans have taken extreme stances against accepting Syrian refugees, despite the extremely stringent screening and application process which takes at least 18 months.
But the U.S. has agreed to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this fiscal year, and Obama has not backed down from that number. That's still far fewer than the numbers being taken in by Canada and Germany, for example, and less than international human rights groups have been calling for.